The environment department has said it was unable to conduct drives against such plastics due to the lack of a legal provision
The High Court on 6 January last year ordered the government to ban single-use plastics in coastal areas, hotels, motels, and restaurants across the country within a year, but no action has so far been taken in this regard.
The production, use and trade of single-use plastics is continuing like before as all hotels, motels, and guest houses are using single-use plastic items and all grocery shops in coastal areas are selling such plastic products without any obstacle.
The High Court passed the order last year after several NGOs had filed a writ petition. The Department of Environment (DoE) was one of the respondents to the petition.
DoE officials said due to the lack of a legal provision, they were unable to conduct drives against single-use plastics, seize such products or fine their producers, sellers, and users.
The department's activities have thus been limited to raising awareness among users and hotel owners about giving it up, the officials said.
However, lawyer of the writ petitioners Syed Ahmed Kabir said this could not be an excuse for not implementing the court order.
"It was the DoE's duty to execute the court order. It was possible to stop single-use plastics under the provision of the existing law. It can even amend the law, but it did nothing," he said.
Razinara Begum, director (Waste and Chemical Management) of the DoE, said, "We have already submitted a compliance report to the court. In it, we detailed our plan and what we have done to comply with the court order. But it is true that we have not initiated any enforcement drive against single-use plastics.
"We wrote to the deputy commissioners of all coastal districts, asking them to make all stakeholders aware about giving up single-use plastics. We sent the same message to all divisional commissioners as well."
The High Court, on 6 January last year, directed respondents – including the DoE and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – to submit a compliance report on 5 January this year.
On 12 January this year, the court was scheduled to hear the compliance report, but it received no report from any of the respondents, including the DoE.
Kabir said, "According to Section 6(a) of Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995, the government can ban single-use plastics. The section clearly states that the government can ban anything made of polyethylene and polypropylene through a gazette notification."
"Single-use plastics are made of these elements. However, the DoE did not take any action. It did not even submit the compliance report to the court," he added.
He continued, "The court expressed its dissatisfaction over not receiving the compliance report and set 10 February as the date for submitting the report and a further hearing."
James Babu, a member of the executive committee of the Bangladesh Hotel and Guest House Owners' Association, said, "We directed all hotel and guest house owners to take necessary steps to stop using single-use plastics. Hotels use only a few kinds of plastic products, such as straws and bottles. However, customers bring all kinds of single-use plastic products inside hotels."
"Most of the hotels have waste baskets to manage waste properly," he added.
The Environment and Social Development Organisation (Esdo), one of the writ petitioners, unveiled a report titled "Stop Using Single-use Plastics to Protect Human Health and Environment" in November 2018. The report said 3,744 tonnes of single-use plastics are produced nationwide per annum.
Single-use plastic products include: drinking straws, bottles, cups, plastic cotton buds, sachets, plastic bags, etc. Due to its decompositional nature, such plastics release toxic chemicals for a long time and those chemicals are now being detected in human blood. Such chemicals may cause: cancer, infertility, birth defects, and many other ailments.
In addition to last year's order on single-use plastics, the High Court also directed the authorities concerned to stop the use of polythene shopping bags. Moreover, it issued a ruling in this regard.
Esdo Secretary General Dr Shahriar Hossain said, "Wild species, especially marine ones, are in danger due to a huge amount of plastic in the oceans. Plastic releases carbon into the atmosphere which is responsible for global warming."
"Moreover, plastic, when it comes in contact with heat, creates chemical reactions that can cause serious damage to human health. These reactions can lead to cancer as plastic contains toxic chemicals," he added.